There are plenty of suggestions out there of how to “make” yourself happy, or what to do when you’re feeling down, or lonely, or whatever. But depression has this wonderful way of making you feel like there is no point in even trying these things. Surely, these stupid little activities that seem so simple won’t really make any difference? Listing three things that you are grateful for- how’s that going to change anything? Taking the time to make my bed properly in the morning- come on, really? Physically forcing myself to something to smile, when I’m feeling so empty inside- it’s just so much effort, and so fake, it’s not gonna change anything, right? How can these things help me? How can anything help me? I’m lost. I’m helpless. I’m ill. What is the point?
One of the major mental barriers for me that got in the way of doing anything for myself was fear. I would rather not try anything in the first place at all- partly out of a lack of motivation- mainly in case it didn’t work. Because if it didn’t work that would be one more thing to make me feel like a totally hopeless case. One more reason that I may as well just give up, disappear, and die. So I would rather not try. It’s more than a fear of failing. It’s a fear of finding out you really are as helpless as you feel.
I would, and still do, catch myself thinking like this sometimes. Often times, actually. It’s a case of classic negative spiralling thoughts, just going around and around your head like, what is the point in even trying? What difference can it even make? etc. etc. Depression can easily make you so cynical that you genuinely believe that nothing is going to work. Despite all of the proof out there, in your head, nothing will really help- not medicine, not therapy, certainly not all of these stupid “make me happy” activities.
Of course, eventually I got so desperate that I’d try anything. Whether it works or not, what did I care? If there’s no point in trying, I thought rationally, there’s equally no point in not trying. At the least these silly activities might pass the time. And that’s one more day that’s happened. One more day that’s passed. Time has a wonderful way of passing by itself, without any help from me. That thought has often been a comfort to me when I’ve been down.
Anyway, like I said, eventually I started doing all of these silly little things that are meant to ward off depression, stress, or illness. How to “make myself happy”. However small or silly or patronising or empty they seemed. I would scour the internet for ideas- drinking lemon water, dry brushing my skin, eating turmeric and ginger, massage, walks, dogs, keeping a blog.
And… well, as time has passed and I’ve tried things out, I’ve come to realise that actually… actually… there’s often a reason people make these suggestions. The reason being, that sometimes, these little activities actually work. They can actually help lift my mood, however small that lift is.
The more things you tick off those “happiness” lists, the more chance you have of finding things that work for you. We are all different, and illness of course affects us all differently, but through experimenting, patience, and perseverance you will gradually discover the tiny things that make a difference for you. And they add up.
So I have gradually been building up my armour against my depression this year. Training the black dog. It doesn’t always help, of course, I still have some truly terrible days and weeks, where the depression just swallows everything. But it can make the tiny difference that is needed. Because that tiny difference for me is monumental; it’s the difference between a day that is passed pointlessly and despairingly, compared to a day that is experienced, lived and enjoyed. It is the difference for me between giving up and keeping on going. It is the difference between choosing to act on thoughts of suicide and escape, versus knowing that it is worth battling on, and sticking it out for life.
I will post up soon all of my tips and techniques that I’ve adopted over this year, so that they can all be found in one place.
But for now, I just hope you’re all well.